'They were lied to'
Watford Grammar School for Boys' Geography department used Google Expeditions to take its Year 7 and 8 pupils on trips to impossible places. Here 12-year old Gabriel recalls his eerie journey around Pripyat, one of the towns directly affected by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, and empathises with the residents and workers who were affected.
Gabriel’s experience demonstrates the power of virtual reality as a learning tool in the classroom. Not only do students learn more about a place by taking a virtual trip there, the immersive nature of the experience also allows them to develop valuable empathy skills and deepens the in-class conversation among peers.
‘We went to a swimming pool, a kind of orphanage place, a school, an amusement park and memorial ceremony to show us the impact of what happened to the town of Pripyat after the accident at Chernobyl.
‘We started out at a ceremony taking place at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, where lots of photographers were taking photos of Government officials who had come to commemorate the disaster and pay their respects to the living and the dead.
‘Then we were on a verge next to a road – a lonely place with dead trees – with a sign in front of us, warning us about radiation. I felt like I knew what it would have been like in real life to see it.'
‘At the amusement park, the bumper cars were destroyed. They were left with just a steel frame around them. It made me think about where I lived, and then compared it to this destroyed place.‘The swimming pool we looked around had no water in it – after the accident, people had to remove the water because so much radiation was in there.
‘There were dolls left on the beds’
‘The workers wore protective suits but still lots of them got radiated and died of skin cancer. They left their used gas masks in an abandoned school as they couldn’t take them out of the danger zone.
‘I thought later about the risks that these workers took – they had to do something or it would have been even worse, but it was dangerous work.
‘The abandoned orphanage was creepy. It showed how fast everybody had to leave as there were dolls left on beds.
‘The authorities told people they’d be able to go back so that’s why they left things behind, but they were lied to.
‘I’ve heard about what happened at Chernobyl before, but reading about it is totally different to being able to see it right in front of you.’